Super Motherload Review

  • First Released Nov 15, 2013
  • PS4

Dig that serenity.

Beneath the surface of Mars lies tranquility. The exotic planet houses valuable minerals amid the impenetrable rocks, and as you survey the vast subterranean world, a serenity washes over you. It's not the treasures that drive you many leagues below the surface, nor is it the promise of unraveling a mysterious conspiracy. No, it's the desire for solitude that serves as your motivation. A calm that can only exist when the tight spaces surrounding you provide comfort, rather than claustrophobia, and every clump of dirt you push aside puts you one meter further from civilization. There's pleasure in Super Motherload's excavation duties, and it's that escape that pulls you ever deeper into this alien world.

Of course, you weren't set to Mars to unwind from the everyday toils of life on Earth. The unquenchable greed of a starving corporation shuttled you to this distant oasis. The Solarus Corporation craves money, its very existence dependent upon expanding its already bursting coffers. And so you dig for gold and silver, trigger explosions, and circumvent magma, all to keep the powers that be happy. It's a thankless job, so you find respite where you can, but their presence is a constant reminder. The dreamy contentment of rhythmic mining is shattered when voices scream in your ear, extolling you to dive ever deeper. As if there was any other direction to travel. Hints of psychotic episodes infecting those already stationed below ground, of alien civilizations threatened by your largesse, offer more distraction than intrigue, and never blossom into fulfilling tales.

So you tune out the noise. Your capable driller eliminates debris as quickly as it can soar up vertical passageways. Carve tunnels beneath the two-dimensional landscape, shifting away dirt in strategic paths to ensure that whatever mineral you desire becomes yours. Smart planning leads to copious rewards. As mobile as your driller is, it's unable to burrow while hovering, so if you're not careful, troves of platinum and emeralds might rest within sight but out of reach, repeatedly lecturing you for being so sloppy. A feeling of accomplishment washes over you as you scoop up the many minerals that populate this world. There's little guidance in how best to proceed, so when you figure out how to make the many gems and minerals yours, you feel as if you earned whatever spills into your purse.

There's pleasure in Super Motherload's excavation duties, and it's that escape that pulls you ever deeper into this alien world.

Your driller is agile, yes, but also fragile. Without enemies to fear, it's your own carelessness that provides the biggest danger. Even with this knowledge, it's easy to forget about your own vulnerability. The lone propeller atop your craft provides surprising lift, and as you careen joyfully toward the surface, smashing into an ill-placed rock can lead to a quick grave. However, punishment won't leave much of a mark. Your cargo is unceremoniously taken away, but you're allowed to carry on undeterred. It's your driller's other failings that provide the most distress. Fuel is as valuable as anything on Mars, and your cargo hold is quite small. As you quickly eat away at your gasoline and extra space, your driller soon becomes useless. So you must resurface to the nearest station, where you unload your goods and refill. This is a frequent and unsatisfying necessity of life underground. And though you can purchase expensive teleporters, you spend too much time drifting between your base and the excavation site.

At least you can make use of all of the money you're accumulating. Upgrade your driller when you return back to base to extend its life ever so slightly. Expand the cargo hold and fuel tank, strengthen your hull, and improve the speed of your craft. Sink money into a radar to be able to identify which debris is desirable, and what's just dirt. Unfortunately, the radar isn't much help. The more money you spend on it, the more focused it becomes, but it's rarely detailed enough to provide information that you couldn't gleam from just using your eyes. At least the other upgrades offer more tangible rewards. The option to smelt materials provides the most interesting upgrade. Your smelter unlocks combinations that can earn you money much quicker. By nabbing materials in a specific pattern, you automatically forge alloys, which adds a dose of strategy to your shoveling duties.

What devilish person set up such intricate traps a mile below Mars' surface?
What devilish person set up such intricate traps a mile below Mars' surface?

As you dive deeper below the surface, the terrain becomes more difficult to navigate. Rocks and magma halt your progress, so you must find clever ways to avoid them. That's where bombs come in. By either picking up bombs while digging or purchasing them at shops, you gain an invaluable way to borrow deeper. Be careful, though, because a sizable C4 blast could eliminate nearby pockets of gold even though you were trying to disintegrate some rocks. So, just like in real life, you should do a bit of planning before you detonate your explosives. T-shaped blasts are perfect for carving out a niche to dig while vertical strikes can clear an entire column in a snap. Charge certain blocks with an electromagnetic jolt to turn them into magma, and then either use a bomb to clear that lava out of the way, or drill through it yourself while taking some damage. Super Motherload hides its puzzle elements in the early going, but if you want to become the richest person on Mars, you have to become a thoughtful and willing arsonist.

There's beauty in loneliness. Super Motherload is at its best when you're miles below Mars' surface, lost in the peaceful rhythm of excavation. But if that solitude frightens you, three of your friends can join you in your quest for minerals. Just don't get your hopes up for online friendships to blossom; Super Motherload is offline only. No matter if you're alone or with friends, there's an uncommon appeal to your extraterrestrial exploits. There's no excitement here, nothing that will make you whoop or yell. The draw comes from the slow satisfaction of carving intricate paths, of razing rocks and planting bombs. It's thoughtful desolation. Super Motherload somehow makes alienation feel like a warm embrace.

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The Good

  • Quiet satisfaction from carving intricate paths
  • Strategic appeal in using bombs smartly

The Bad

  • Story interruptions serve as a distraction

About the Author

Tom has developed a close relationship with digging in recent years. From the expansive worlds of Terraria to the robotic plunders in SteamWorld Dig, he seems to continually wield a digital shovel. He spent seven hours digging into Super Motherload and was stymied by many of its puzzles.